Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Emotional Roller Coaster of Living With Food Allergies

It's the first day of spring, and what would be more ordinary than a rainy, gray day in Seattle?  And that's exactly what we've got.  I'm not complaining.  My veins bleed rain.  I'm a true Seattle girl, and yes I have worn socks with my Keens.  And rainboots with skirts.  And softshell jackets with dresses.  And wool socks with shorts.  Don't judge.

What will we do on this rainy, dreary day?  What we normally do I guess.  Play, go for a splashy walk in our rainboots, bake something, watch Sesame Street...a pretty typical day.  Oh, and a couple of our favorite friends are coming to play this morning too.  Not only are these fabulous friends that we have a blast with, but they are allergy-buddies, too!  We all eat the same foods, and that in itself is a blast.

I saw this on Pinterest the other day, and had to save it:

Having food allergies can certainly be a hassle as well as a huge source of stress.  Always having something on hand to accommodate an outing, playdate, or even birthday party where allergen-free food might not be available requires a lot of preparedness, planning, and thought on my part.  But what does it include for the allergic child?  Not getting to eat what the other kids eat.  Feeling left out.  Feeling disappointed and sad that they yummy cake is for everyone but me.  Watching while other kids get to indulge while I have to eat something totally different .  Crying and feeling angry that I have to leave my friend's birthday party because someone kissed me with peanuts on their breath and now I'm having an allergic reaction.  Or being bummed that I didn't even get to go in the first place

These are all things my kids have experienced, and so much more.  They aren't even at an age yet where they are able to adequately verbalize their emotions regarding allergies.  But I can tell you exclusion is there, I have seen it in many forms.  Sometimes they seem affected by it, sometimes they don't.  Sometimes I am affected by it, and I am an adult! (I know, cry me a river, get over it, right?!).  

So, what does this mama do to make sure my kiddos always are included on some level?  What do I do to ensure my level of stress stays somewhat low?  I plan.  And plan. And then I plan a little more.  You can never be too prepared.  When I bake, I make extras and freeze.  Cupcakes, cookies, and bars freeze really well.  You have no idea how much stress is alleviated by simply being able to grab a cupcake from the freezer at any given moment (this doubles as a great stress reliever when the stress has already hit and mama is in need!).  

Whenever we are invited to a party or gathering I first always check to see if peanut products will be present.  If they are, we usually decline the invitation.  If it's one of the lesser-reactive foods, we'll go but pack our own food.  I always give a head's up to the host that I am doing this as I don't want to be rude, but I also want them to be on board with me and not serve food to my kids.  Creating an understanding ahead of time really helps, and we have had some really successful parties due to clear communication and foresight.  

However, this does not alleviate the disappointment when the birthday girl blows out the candle on the beautiful glutenous cake that everyone but my child gets to eat.  That disappointment will always exist in those situations.  But, being included is better than staying home.  Right? 

We recently went to, what I would consider, the most relaxing birthday party ever.  Why?  Because our dear friends who are coming to play this morning were hosting.  First of all it was cute as can be - ten 4-year olds dressed in princess attire listening to princess music, playing princess games, etc.  But the food, where all of my anxiety normally lies, was fantastic.  Fruit, popchips, deli meat, and jello.  And of course, Cybele Pascal's vanilla cupcakes.  not a trace of gluten, egg, dairy, soy, or peanuts.  And I didn't have to pack anything!  It's really lovely having allergic friends on so many levels.  Someone to commiserate with (if I had a dime for every text that said "missing the days of ordering dinner in"....), someone to share recipes with, but most importantly someone to share every day life with and never worry about being "different."  

I have to give a shout out to my mom at this point.  She always makes sure there is something to eat for my girls.  But she goes the extra mile for treats.  She recently discovered gluten-free, soy-free ice cream cones.  Add some sorbet, you've got yourself a rockin' treat.  And how many food-allergic kids get to indulge on ice cream cones?!  It's pretty awesome when you have family and friends who are not only accommodating to your needs, but celebrate them.  Right on, Mom! Thank you for that (and for being the best mom ever and putting up with me for 33 years and all that other stuff). 

Some day my kids will be old enough to understand the emotional roller coaster food allergies brings to our lives.  Until then, they live and breathe it and suffer through it.  For people that don't have food allergies, please know our kids are still ordinary kids.  While it is unfair of us as parents to expect others to accommodate our children completely, I think it is fair of us to expect others to understand their needs and be empathetic toward them.  If we have to decline or leave an event due to a food-related issue, please be understanding about it rather than irritated.  Please don't single our kids out or draw attention to the differences, rather celebrate the commonalities and just respect their needs.  And please know that we would rather be envious of your wheaty cake  than not have been included at all.  We'll have our own cake and eat it, too. :)

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